Monday, November 10, 2014


On Friday, there was a report of a Dickcissel at Inwood Hill Park, in with a sparrow flock on the soccer field near the cove. Dickcissel is a very good bird for New York--they're a midwestern bird--but I doubted it would still be around on Saturday, and I was frankly feeling a bit lazy, so after brunch I headed off to Central Park instead, Maybe there'd be Bluebirds.

On the bus, I checked the eBird reports, and lo! The Dickcissel had been seen again, a bit before noon, on one of the baseball fields along the Hudson just north of Dyckman street. OK, OK, I know when I'm being told to get moving. I grabbed the C train and was at Inwood Hill by 1:30.

There was a big group of House Sparrows around the southmost fence of the last baseball field. I scanned it over and over. Every few minutes the birds would flush into the nearby trees or from one side of the fence to the other; sometimes because a bicyclist went by, sometimes for no apparent reason, and then they'd come back and I'd start scanning again. I did that for a half-hour, then decided to check out the rest of the river walk and try again afterward. The north end of the walk is a good place to spot raptors over the Bronx (I had a Bald Eagle there once) or over the cliffs in Jersey, or to see unusual seabirds (that's where the Scoters were last winter).

Not much there today. A flock of about 50 Canada Geese were on the field where some soccer goals are set up. I've never seen anyone playing soccer there. A Ring-Billed Gull buzzed them once, just for lulz, and they set up some honking. A Red-Tailed Hawk looking for dinner cruised over Inwood Hill from north to south and on to Fort Tryon Park. A dozen or so Goldfinches moved through the trees along the railroad tracks, and a larger flock of Juncos foraged along the fence by the tracks. I scanned the Juncos. There were a few Chipping Sparrows and a Song Sparrow in with them.

I thought about going back and trying the baseball fields again, when I heard dogs barking from that direction. I could see there were people on the field there. Then groups of House Sparrows arrived from that direction. One stopped by a big maple and commenced foraging on the grass right by the path. So I looked them over. Again very minute or two they'd all move into the bushes or fly over to the trees along the railroad tracks, then quickly return.

To give you an idea of what I was looking at, here's a small part of the House Sparrow flock:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo?
Where's Waldo?

There's a Dickcissel in there. See it?

Once, when the birds flushed, I noticed a couple of birds stayed behind. That was interesting. So I got my binoculars on them, and saw one with a bright yellow breast--score!--and then it flew to join the rest.

Now at least I knew the Dickcissel was there. I caught glimpses of yellow a couple of times, and then she pulled the slow-to-flush business again.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Dickcissel!

I say "she" because males have a black "V" near the throat, like a tiny Meadowlark. The field guides say the female has a "hint" of yellow on the breast. I'd say this is more than a hint.

Eventually the House Sparrows joined the Juncos by the fence along the railroad tracks. I moved slowly over there. The House Sparrows moved further north, but the Dickcissel stayed behind with the Juncos.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Dickcissel and Junco, Inwood Hill Park
Junco partner

I watched a good long time--House sparrows moving north and south, Juncos flushing to the trees and returning, a Field Sparrow popping up in their midst, and the Dickcissel moving through the flock, sometimes near, sometimes far.

Eventually, with the sun getting low, I headed back toward Dyckman Street. I stopped off at the pier there. There were two Mute Swans in the surf with some Mallards.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Mute Swans, Hudson River
surf's up!

A birder came up looking for Bonaparte's Gulls, but headed off to look for the Dickcissel when I told him where I'd seen it. I hope he got it; dusk was coming on pretty fast.

It turns out there were Bluebirds in Central Park. I should have another chance at them, though.

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